(Image courtesy Boys & Girls Club)

By Tim Blaylock

Recently, someone from our staff came to me asking about help for two of our kids from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica who had just become homeless. I wish I could say this was an isolated occurrence, but it’s not. Homelessness is a big problem here. Imagine a child with no warm bed to sleep in. And how hard it must it be for them to concentrate in school when they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

Homelessness is defined as being without an adequate nighttime residence due to economic hardship. Around Los Angeles County, these stressful conditions are a daily reality, and when we see homeless people, we often make judgments about their condition without knowing facts — they are lazy or crazy, drug addicts or alcoholics, thus deserving of their situation.

But what about homeless children?

In Los Angeles County, we have thousands of homeless children who live in a constant shuffle, from cheap motels to dilapidated cars to cold, dark tents and even streets. And the number of homeless children continues to increase across our state. More than 200,000 children are homeless in California. Our state ranks at the bottom with Mississippi and Alabama for number of homeless kids, according to a report from the National Center on Family Homelessness. Nationally, one in 30 children is homeless; that’s more than 2.5 million children.

Homeless kids have high rates of acute and chronic health problems, and the constant barrage of stress and traumatic experience has profound effects on their development
and ability to learn.

Finding solutions

Caring for the poor is a community challenge. Our government and charities, including the Boys & Girls Clubs, work hard to provide for as many homeless people as possible, but there remain thousands of people who need help to get their lives back on track.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica serves homeless children to break their cycle of homelessness. Here, we give them dignity and the resources and mentors to help them become successful in school and in life. We connect our homeless members and their families with services that lead them to sustainable housing and self-sufficiency. Our Social Emotional Wellness program and our partnership with other social service agencies that deal directly with the homeless is part of the solution. But we all can do much more in this area.

“It’s OK for children to be homeless.” Essentially, that is what we are saying if we opt to do nothing. As a community, we must take action. Let’s explore turning closed-down schools or other facilities into emergency shelters. Existing services for the homeless could be conducted there to simplify access so homeless children and families can advance their lives. There is a great new model in Seattle that involves building tiny house villages.

Urge local and state elected officials to push for programs that serve the homeless, especially children. Ask them to support emergency housing and transitional housing for mothers, children and all homeless families, and youth runaways, foster youth and youth in crisis.

Contribute to organizations that work to break the cycle of homelessness. Volunteer your time and mentor children so they can achieve their full potential as caring, responsible and productive adults. If not you, then who?

And the two homeless children who my staff spoke to me about? We connected them with community services and they are safe, for now. But there will be others. As a community, let’s find solutions to keep a roof over their heads, consistent meals and in school, thinking about learning, having a career and creating a fulfilling life as a self-sufficient adult. Let’s break the cycle of homelessness.

Tim Blaylock is the President/CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica.